State bud­get sea­son has calmer cli­mate

Times Chronicle & Public Spirit - - OPINION -

Some­thing un­heard of is hap­pen­ing in Har­ris­burg.

No, they’re not se­ri­ously con­sid­er­ing re­duc­ing the size of our bloated, over­priced, un­der­worked Leg­is­la­ture.

If it’s the sec­ond week of June, it must be bud­get time. The state con­sti­tu­tion man­dates that our fear­less state lead­ers have a new fis­cal plan in place by the end of the month.

But there is a dis­tinct lack of the usual ran­cor that has char­ac­ter­ized bud­get bat­tles in re­cent years.

Demo­cratic Gov. Tom Wolf and Repub­li­can lead­ers in the Leg­is­la­ture have been float­ing com­pli­ments at each other, not­ing that progress is con­sis­tently be­ing made, and that they ex­pect to have a bud­get in place be­fore the dead­line.

Com­pare that to the first three years of Wolf’s term as gov­er­nor, when he locked horns with GOP lead­ers in the Leg­is­la­ture and bud­get stand­offs dragged on for weeks. Wolf rode to the gov­er­nor’s man­sion on a mantra of in­creased spend­ing for ed­u­ca­tion. Which is fine ex­cept for one thing. That usu­ally is ac­com­pa­nied by higher taxes to pay for it.

And while the gov­er­nor’s man­sion is in­hab­ited by a Demo­crat, vot­ers in re­cent years have con­sis­tently in­creased the Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity in the Leg­is­la­ture. And many mem­bers of the Cap­i­tal GOP Cor­ral con­sider new taxes to be some­thing akin to anath­ema.

The GOP took one whiff of Wolf’s tax plans – which in­cluded a new sev­er­ance tax on the state’s nat­u­ral gas in­dus­try and at one point even hikes in the state sales and per­sonal in­come taxes – and im­me­di­ately turned up their noses.

This went on for years. Wolf would sub­mit a bud­get call­ing for in­creased ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing and new taxes, and Repub­li­cans in the House and Se­nate would laugh them­selves silly at even the no­tion of any new taxes.

So why is this year dif­fer­ent?

We can tell you why in one word: Novem­ber.

Wolf is run­ning for re-elec­tion. So is every mem­ber of the House. And about half of the state Se­nate.

Wolf will do bat­tle with one of the lead­ing con­ser­va­tive anti-tax voices in the Se­nate in for­mer York County Sen. Scott Wag­ner.

The trash mag­nate gave up his Se­nate seat to fo­cus on the gov­er­nor’s race. Look for him to con­stantly re­mind ci­ti­zens that Wolf wants to hike their taxes.

Like­wise, no House mem­ber is es­pe­cially en­am­ored of hit­ting the cam­paign trail this sum­mer and fall with a fat, new tax hike hang­ing around his or her neck, pro­vid­ing easy fod­der for their gen­eral elec­tion foes.

The re­sult? Wolf has largely toned down much of the rhetoric of pre­vi­ous years when it comes to spend­ing – and more im­por­tantly, taxes.

He’s aban­doned al­to­gether any thought of a gen­eral in­crease that would hit the pub­lic squarely in the wal­let with a jump in the sales or per­sonal in­come tax.

No tax hikes. Not much in the way of bick­er­ing. No govern­ment shut­down. No loss of ser­vices. No fund­ing de­lays.

Of course, an­other way of look­ing at this is no se­ri­ous look at the prob­lem­atic fis­cal is­sues that con­tinue to drag Penn­syl­va­nia down.

Don’t hold your breath wait­ing for prop­erty tax re­form.

In fact, don’t look for a fairer dis­tri­bu­tion of the state’s tax bur­den, a tax struc­ture that per­haps al­lowed us to re­side some­where other than the bot­tom of the heap when it comes to job cre­ation. Maybe a se­ri­ous dis­cus­sion about govern­ment re­form? Not likely.

At this point we’d still set­tle for get­ting the state out of the booze busi­ness.

That’s not go­ing to hap­pen any­time soon, ei­ther.

In­stead, we’ll get more of the same.

Re­mem­ber last year? Our elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives did what they al­ways do. Ex­panded gam­bling and bor­rowed money .

This year? Voila, le­gal sports gam­bling just fell into their lap.

Now if they could only get out of their way and put the process in place to make it hap­pen.

It’s Penn­syl­va­nia, where in elec­tion years, ev­ery­one makes nice when it comes to the state bud­get.

You can bet the house on it.

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